Nikki von Ahsen's South Side home doubles as a venue for musicians and artists

“Hello, my name is Nikki. This is my house. Welcome to Nikki's House.”

That's how Nikki von Ahsen opens the music and art events she hosts at her South Side home, which has doubled as a venue since last fall. A few times each month, she'll put away her bike (resting in her spacious living room), set up a merchandise table and provide snacks, coffee and tea for an audience of strangers.

“The way I look at it [is] … for the most part, people mean well,” said von Ahsen, who will host Oklahoma band Ragland on Tuesday, March 6. “As long as you interact with people and make them feel welcome, they'll treat your home with respect.”

Doors typically open at 7 p.m. and shows wrap up around 10 p.m. so as not to disturb her neighbors, including a retired, 80-year-old Baptist preacher and a family with small children. Drug use isn't tolerated, but attendees can bring their own alcohol. All shows are donation-based, though turning a profit is not important to von Ahsen.

“The most I've ever made is like $20, and then I ended up giving that to somebody for the merch table,” she said. “You have to be passionate about entertaining people and hosting people and giving people a place to share.”

As Nikki's House builds momentum, audiences are hit or miss. One show brought in over 40 people, while a figure drawing event was a bit more modest.

“We had one person show up,” von Ahsen said. “And actually the model fell through.” Von Ahsen ended up posing nude for the artist.

Whoever shows up to Nikki's House can be guaranteed a “safe space,” which is extremely important to von Ahsen, who is a trans woman. A troubling experience she witnessed in Nebraska not only affected her approach to hosting, but also her personal life.

“I remember sitting in a bar in downtown Omaha. There was a trans girl sitting in the corner and this dude was just harassing the hell out of her,” she recalled. “I remember putting myself in her spot, like, ‘I don't want that to be me.'”

Von Ahsen relocated to Columbus, and a failed attempt to open a restaurant spurred her to pursue her happiness. She transitioned and began getting involved in the local arts community. A painter herself, she dreams of opening an art gallery.

For now, she provides a platform for others to express themselves in her living room or backyard.

“Art is leaving the world a little better than you found it,” she said. “What my role has turned into is empowering people to do that.”